Small Cells, Big Opportunity


BTR_Feature_Art_Cell_3-24-14 Mobile operators are facing a surge in data demand, with research from Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) indicating that traffic could be 11 times greater in 2018 than last year. To address this, they are likely to employ small cells, which offer the opportunity to target placement in the densest areas that offer the most value. A large number of relatively inexpensive small cells are deployed, as compared to the traditional macrocell technology, which is installed in few sites that serve a broader area.

Each of these small cells needs to be connected to the backbone of the mobile carrier's network. There is an opportunity, therefore, for cable operators to provide backhaul for small cells, much as it provides this service to macrocell sites. And the opportunity could be a great. A report commissioned by Amdocs (NASDAQ:DOX) cited statistics indicating that while there were 11 million active small cells worldwide in February 2013, this number is expected to increase to 92 million by 2016.

A survey of mobile operators, which served as the core of the report, indicated that 70% of respondents would be willing to partner for small cell backhaul.

"There are a lot of challenges in terms of scale and in terms of the stability of the backhaul solution," said Yosi MorYosef, marketing manager, Amdocs OSS. "(Mobile operators) are keen to have partners to support the massive installations."

In North America specifically, mobile operators prefer fiber and cable technology for small cell backhaul to wireless. By 2018, backhaul to small cells is expected to be 31% cable, 35% fiber, 33% wireless and 1% DSL.

"We thought wireless microwave would be more popular because of cost," MorYosef said. "It is not indicated in the research, but it is quite clear. The stability of the fiber solution and the bandwidth that you can provide with such a solution is better."

Around 45% of the mobile operators participating in the survey saw MSOs as their preferred partner for backhaul. Twenty percent of those also indicated they were willing to have the MSO provide not only backhaul, but also the small cell itself.

"This is not surprising as MSOs have coverage for backhaul in urban cities and the skills - workforce skills and project management skills - through things they have been doing in their day-to-day operation," MorYosef said.

The biggest challenges for MSOs in providing small cell backhaul are scale and cost. The mobile operators are planning on deployments of perhaps thousands per month, and thus, automation tools could help MSOs keep up, MorYosef said. His company has announced a solution designed to automate planning, fulfillment and activation of the process.

"It integrates the core systems of operators and gives service providers the option to manage (hundreds of) projects simultaneously," MorYosef said. "These are tools that are needed to cover the massive installations that small cell trends are bringing here .... They get end-to-end installation of small cells."

Since there will be so many small cell installations, the price for backhaul has to be right. "It is not a macrocell for thousands of users. It may only be a solution for couple of hundred users," MorYosef said. "The MSOs have to be mean and lean to provide solutions for small cell deployment."

Monta Monaco Hernon is a free-lance writer. She can be reached at

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